The T-TPLF Spook Who Sat by the Jailhouse Door in Ethiopia (Part I)

Author’s Note: This is Part I of a two-part translation of an Amharic interview[1] with a former, now-exiled anonymous T-TPLF  “mole” (deep- cover intelligence operative) who was trained to infiltrate  prisons in Ethiopia to snitch on political prisoners, persuade them to falsely admit criminal wrongdoing and recruit younger prisoners to give false testimony in court against well-known imprisoned opposition leaders. In the interview, the T-TPLF mole spills the beans to Sadik Ahmed (BBN Radio) on the stockpile of T-TPLF dirty tricks used against political prisoners and military officers who are not part of the ethnic group of the T-TPLF leaders. The mole discussed how he was trained and equipped by T-TPLF intelligence bosses to snoop on political prisoners, extract information from them and do other intelligence and surveillance work on top non-T-TPLF ethnic group military officers.

The T-TPLF mole tells a chilling story of his game of deception as fake prisoner to 1) spy and report on the prison activities of particular political prisoners, 2) gain the confidence of political prisoners and extract information from them about their plans, activities and opinions, 3) recruit and organize a gang of younger prisoners to give false testimony against jailed political prisoners  by coaching them to make out perjured legal declarations claiming that they were trained and paid by opposition leaders and parties to commit crimes, and 4) convince jailed opposition leaders to publicly admit their own criminality and request pardon to be released.

The identity of the former T-TPLF mole is not disclosed in the interview.

The interview reveals the extraordinary lengths to which the T-TPLF will go to not only arrest, detain and torture its opposition but also the reprehensible psychological warfare it wages on innocent opposition leaders it has imprisoned. It is nothing short of diabolical for a regime to arrest innocent opposition leaders who have committed no crimes or were engaged in the peaceful exercise of their constitutional rights and subject them to psychological pressure to force them to falsely confess to heinous crimes they did not commit only to be magnanimously pardoned by the T-TPLF.  Such unimaginable wickedness can only be forged in the workshop of the truly degenerate Satanic mind.

The interview also offers a unique glimpse into the T-TPLF intelligence system and the vile techniques  used to neutralize and discredit promising military leaders who do not belong to the ethnic group of the T-TPLF leaders.

I am making translations of the personal accounts of T-TPLF torture victims and others who have decided to come forward and tell the truth about T-TPLF crimes and atrocities to ensure that my readers, particularly those in the diverse international policy-making communities, have a clear understanding of the type of regime they are supporting by willfully turning a blind eye and deaf ears. I am aiming my translations specifically at the donor and loaner communities who regularly follow my weekly commentaries. I hope the firsthand accounts of torture and abuse committed by the T-TPLF will prick their consciences (I know there is a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening) as they sign over the big fat checks for hundreds of millions of dollars to the T-TPLF bosses year after year. I want to remove any chance of their claiming plausible deniability (But we did not know!) There is an old Ethiopian saying about the man pretending to be asleep. You can push him off the bed and he will still pretend to be asleep. It is the same thing for the donors and loaners who pour billions to prop up T-TPLF rule in Ethiopia.  The damnable hypocrites know beyond a shadow of doubt that the T-TPLF is a gang of ruthless and vicious criminal thugs but they continue to support it as the “government” of Ethiopia.

It is important for those who have suffered under T-TPLF rule to come out, speak up and tell their stories. The silence of the innocent lambs tortured and abused is the greatest weapon in the arsenal of T-TPLF leaders. The T-TPLF victimizes its victims not only by torturing and abusing them but also by traumatizing them in stony silence. If those victims do not muster the courage and strength to testify against the T-TPLF in the court of world opinion, it may be too late for them to testify against them in a court of law. If they do not come forward and tell their stories of torture and abuse, no one else can tell it for them. These victims have gone through T-TPLF hell on earth and survived. What is there to fear for those who have touched the face of (d)evil?

On the other hand, I believe justice is like a delayed train. One may have to wait and wait and wait for the train to arrive. But a delayed train always arrives, always; but it arrives only when it arrives, unscheduled, unexpectedly, unforeseen, unwarned and unpredictably.

“How long for the Justice Train to arrive in Ethiopia?” Not long.

Not long!

Life imitating art in T-TPLF’s Ethiopia?

When I first heard the T-TPLF “mole” interview last week, it reminded me of the 1973 movie, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door”. In that fictional story, the African American protagonist is recruited by the CIA as a token black to show the CIA is racially integrated. Unbeknown to the CIA, the African American recruit is a black nationalist. The CIA trains him in a variety of operational, combat,  communications and asymmetrical warfare techniques. After serving the CIA for a while, he quits in disgust and returns to Chicago as a social worker, but actually  begins to organize street gangs into a paramilitary black revolutionary movement as “Freedom Fighters” to bring down white supremacy in  America.

The real life T-TPLF spook who sat by the jailhouse door has a much more dramatic and revolting story to tell as he lived a life of a fake prisoner spying on political prisoners held by the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF). The T-TPLF spook also left his spying job disgusted and with an overwhelming sense of moral guilt for his contemptible service to uphold and champion the T-TPLF political order in Ethiopia, and with a reinvigorated sense of Ethiopian nationalism to wage a struggle against T-TPLF black apartheid rule. There is an invisible army of T-TPLF moles, undercover agents, informers, operatives and spies that have infested Prison Nation Ethiopia. Their salvation, like the mole interviewed in this episode, comes only through a confession of guilt and redemption through the grace and forgiveness of the Ethiopian people and affirmation of their patriotic obligation to their country and defiance to the rule of a gang of thugs.    


Sadik Ahmed: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. We wanted to contact you to get additional evidence concerning the process by which [the T-TPLF regime] tried to spy on jailed opposition political leaders who were jailed following the 2005 election.  We know you were one of the fake prisoners sent into the prisons for the purpose of spying on the opposition leaders. Could you explain to us how that situation unfolded?

Former T-TPLF Mole: In the 2005 elections, there were 96 of us who joined the struggle [reference not clear]. After we got out, we became acquainted with intelligence gathering and spying. There were 32 of us available [to join the intelligence service] but they [T-TPLF] recruited  16 of us. [Because we could speak] the language, we were sent to Oromia and Addis Ababa to do intelligence work.

Regarding the [2005] election, they gave us a big budget and made us observers.

In the vote count, they [T-TPLF] were defeated totally. But it was not possible for them to engage in vote fraud [easily] so they jailed all of the opposition leaders.

After they jailed the opposition leaders, they selected three Tigreans and myself and put us in Maekelawi [Central] prison (commonly known as “torture central”) as [fake prisoners]. We were jailed for the pretended crime of involvement to overthrow the constitutional order. Once we joined the prison population we were treated like the rest of the prisoners, and we were even placed in solitary in the “dark cell” (chelema bet). [To make it appear convincing], they even made us look like we had been beaten, tortured and mistreated. We were kept in the same cells with the other prisoners. For instance, I was with Engineer Hailu and Birtukan Midekssa [leaders of Kinijit opposition coalition] and was able to create close relations with them. My mission was to evaluate and report on their ideas and opinions.

Sadik Ahmed: Would you explain how were you able to get close enough to spy on Judge Birtukan Midekssa [since she was held in the women’s section of the prison]?

Former T-TPLF Mole: At the time men and women were held in different places. But I had a job delivering food (“rations”) to the women prisoners three times a day. The women cook in the kitchen but the men prisoners deliver the cooked food. That’s how I had access [to Birtukan].

Sadik Ahmed: Did you have the opportunity to meet Judge Birtukan? Did you try to exploit her weaknesses to get information?

Former T-TPLF Mole: At the time she was among those accused of trying to overthrow the constitutional order. There was a great public uproar about her imprisonment because she had a baby daughter. They [T-TPLF) were being severely criticized by the public for jailing the nursing mother of a new-born baby. My effort was to focus on the needs [and hardship] of her baby and to get her to confess to committing the crime she was accused of and to agree to ask for a pardon and get out of prison. I wanted to persuade her to admit she was one of those who tried to overthrow the constitutional order, that she abandoned her responsibility and oath of office and tried to mobilize against the constitutional order by violence. [I tried to convince] her to ask the [T-TPLF] and Ethiopian people for a pardon [after admitting her crimes] and get out of prison. [By the way], it was not just me but also many well-known elders were sent to convince her about this, but they did not have as much access to her as we did from the inside. But her stand was very clear and well known. She said absolutely NO! Never. She said, “My daughter is the daughter of all Ethiopians. Let them raise her.”

Sadik Ahmed: Engineer Hailu [Shawul] is now dead, but when he was in prison he suffered torture and later got out. How did you get close enough to spy on him?

Former T-TPLF Mole: The guy sent to spy on Engineer Hailu is named Hailemelekot, a Tigrinya-speaker. He was born and raised in Addis Ababa, but he is a Tigrean and Tigrinya-speaker. He has no problem speaking [Amharic], and he had a better approach than we did to get along with people.

I tried to get close to Hailu Shawul  but at the time we did not have the knowledge (technique) and understanding about what to do. Engineer Hailu was also accused of another crime in prison, organizing prisoners and violating prison rules. It is difficult for me to tell the types of abuses and mistreatment  Engineer Hailu suffered. It is shocking [to the conscience]. Recently, one of our brothers (Habtamu Ayalew) has explained [the torture and abuse] it. It is very shocking what happened to Engineer Hailu Shawul. He was the victim of unspeakable horrors.

Sadik Ahmed: How long were you jailed as a fake prisoner at Maekelawi?

Former T-TPLF Mole: I was at Maekelawi for one month. Then I was sent straight to Dedesa [a former military base where thousands of detainees have been dumped”]. That was where many young Ethiopians and opposition leaders were jailed.

There were 8 of us who joined up with the prisoners in Dedesa. There were some Oromigna speakers from the east. I was from the northeast, but there were others from the central and the east. As they were sifting through the thousands of detainees, our job was to find out who is mobilizing and financing the young [protesters].  At the time, the younger detainees were convinced that the regime will leave power. So our job was to find out who is giving them their mission and what they were doing and to encourage them to testify falsely that Engineer Hailu and others were paying big money to train them. We wanted to convince them to testify falsely in court in exchange for a pardon to get out of jail. That was our mission. We told them we will be testifying that Engineer Hailu and Kinijit had appropriated a large amount of money to finance the disturbances and create chaos.  We wanted them to testify that Engineer Hailu made them leaders of the disturbances. Our aim was to get as many young people as we can to testify in court against Engineer Hailu and be released from jail. That is the kind of persuasion work we were doing.

Sadik Ahmed: Were there any young people ready to testify falsely against Engineer Hailu Shawul?

Former T-TPLF Mole: Indeed. Not just children but also young adults. So there will be no mention in court that they were testifying because they were tortured or beaten, our mission was to tell them that even we, ourselves, will testify. When they see us giving out statements [to T-PLF officials], then we become examples for them to follow. Of course, we were  not going to testify because our mission is different. Our job was to get 20-30 young people and convince them to testify falsely. These young people were required to give their statements formally to the prosecutor and the judge before they were released from Dedesa .

Sadik Ahmed: How did you approach the young prisoners? As criminals? What reasons did you give them about how you ended up in jail?

I and a friend who comes from Harar region pretended we were transferred from Zwai prison. We told them [young people] we were jailed because we were charged as dangerous criminals who committed terrorism. [To make it convincing] our heads were shaved just like any other prisoner and treated like every other prisoner. There were even times when we got beaten. We tried to look and behave like them in order to convince them. After I left Dedesa, I was sent for training to Awash Arba cadet training center.

Sadik Ahmed: When you were being recruited for this work, how did you decide to become loyal to the regime and become [a mole]?   Why were you doing this, become a prisoner, be beaten, sit in the cold chamber of Maekelawi and face hardship? How did you convince yourself? Were you trying to show your loyalty to the regime or did you do it because you were a naïve young person?

Former T-TPLF Mole: There is a situation once you join the military that makes you change yourself [brainwash]. When you work in intelligence, it is different than being an ordinary soldier where you bust your behind for six days a week. They will dock you 5 or 10 percent of your pay for the simplest thing, like if your uniform is out of line. [There is a lot of fear.] [We expected to get paid a lot of money.] When we got there the salary promised was 570 birr, but after we got there we were paid 283.20 birr. Then there is a big budget for doing intelligence work. This encourages you to be loyal to the regime to a high degree. The other reason is that once you begin at the bottom and reach the top level of the military and have achieved, you don’t want to go back to the lower ranks and bust your behind. You get to do things that ordinary soldiers are not allowed. You can wear your hair as you want and dress as you like. You don’t have to wear a uniform and have a free lifestyle. That was attractive to younger people in the force. The fear of going back to the lower ranks and being with the less educated soldiers or former regime soldiers is not attractive. So you are forced to honor and be loyal to the regime (T-TPLF] and serve it willingly.

Sadik Ahmed:  Did your family worry when you were in prison. How did you communicate with them?

Former T-TPLF Mole: No. no. no. No one knows what we do, not even the military unit from which we are recruited. You are engaged in a top secret activity. You are not even allowed to exchange telephone numbers with anyone. During the 2005 election, there were not many cell phones but they give you recording technology that is voice-activated.

Second, you could put your family in danger by communicating with them. The kind of intelligence gathering I did could result in death and severe imprisonment of someone. If that person knows you, he could hurt my family. It can also demoralize the military unit from which I came [if they knew I am a mole]. Third, when you do this, an enemy force could find out and follow you and try to buy you off or kidnap you and make you work for them [as double agent]. It is not only family members but also your very best friend who would save your life must not know you do this work.

If you have a good leader [case officer], he will return you to your former unit or discharge you from service and return you to your family.

If you have been a good agent [and know a lot], he will have you assaulted by an unknown person and make you disabled and have you work in another capacity.  That is the extent to which they will go to ensure that you have no communication [completely isolated].

Sadik Ahmed:  When you go into prisons and try to convince people to give false testimony against political prisoners, did they give you secret electronic recording devices to wear to make sure they do not miss out on any information you get from prisoners?

Former T-TPLF Mole: The amazing thing is that you don’t do this kind of work without an electronic device. There is a voice recorder the size of a Samsung cell phone battery which you can put anywhere on your body or wear like a watch on your wrist so no one suspects. You record the information that way. You don’t present your information as a special report. They hear the direct electronic audio transmission of your conversation [not your summary] [from the electronic device you are wearing].  Second, the top prison officials are told secretly to take it easy on us, and the lower level officers are told to do the same. When we say we are sick, even when we are not, we are allowed to go at any time of the night. We can go to the toilet anytime we wanted even though other prisoners cannot. Usually, when we have to go to the toilet at night, the feeling among the rest of the cellmates is that you are doomed to go to the “dark cell” [hell hole]. But we would sleep somewhere and before dawn just before the prisoners come out, they put us in the dark cell to make it look like we spent the night there. Since people assume you actually spent the night in the dark cell and suffered abuse, everyone believes you. They believe you whatever story [of beating and torture] you make up to tell them. No one will suspect. They feel sorry for you. What we did was a dirty job.

They [T-TPLF] don’t even trust the top officers at the Awash Arba officer training center. When an officer is promoted to full colonel or general, he is sent for training to Awash Arba. But they don’t even trust those officers. They will check their political stands, how long they want to serve, their ethnicity, what they want and so on. That’s what we were doing [finding out this information].

Sadik Ahmed:  Are you suggesting that prisoners at Kality and Qilinto should be careful of electronic surveillance that any conversation they have can be electronically monitored?

Former T-TPLF Mole: Prisoners need to know that they should not exchange information with anyone they do not know under any circumstances because they made jailhouse friendships. This is obvious. The regime puts a lot of people in prison [to do the kind of work we did]. For example, recently, a year ago or so in Dessie when they were campaigning, “Let our voice be heard”, I used to phone a friend of mine. He told me he was going to Dessie, a Muslim area. He is a Muslim and was born there. There was a Muslim leader there, Sheik Nuru, who was killed. Woyane (T-TPLF) is the one who got him killed and we exchanged ideas about how the blame could be shifted from the [woyane criminals] to someone who had quarrels with the sheik or the people in the area. To do this kind of work they train them [intelligence officers] in whatever fields necessary. They will train them to look like sheiks, criminals or a poor person. There are even individuals who are given training in the Quran and use that to convince the Muslims to support the regime.

Sadik Ahmed:  So it is necessary to be careful in prison at all times and hours because of spies? To whom did you report [your case officer]?

Former T-TPLF Mole: There was a Tigrean officer [to whom I would report] who was expected to become a general but died. There is an officer from Silte named Shukur who is a full colonel today. The highest intelligence officers were General Saere Mekonnen [to whom I reported] when there was something special to report.

There is a chain of command. When we spy in Oromia kilil, we go to Saera Mekonnen. When in Amhara kilil we reported to General Kemal Gelchu.

Sadik Ahmed: You are not Oromo but can speak Oromigna language because you were born in the Oromiya region. Was there a situation where you had to spy on General Kemal Gelchu?

Former T-TPLF Mole: I did not spy on Kemal Gelchu. At the time, the rank and file soldiers were raising the seven-year service issue at a high-level. When you first sign up for the military it was for seven years. They [T-TPLF] believed that if you go directly to a military unit at enlistment, you could be contaminated [with views against the T-TPLF]. They get you into intelligence when you are fresh recruit after 6 months. They select you if they think you have ability and potential. They keep you in training. There were others above us who have better knowledge [and more qualified]. If you are an Oromo or Oromo-speaker, they will not let you join or relate with other Oromos or high-level Oromo-speakers.  By the way, when I say the “highest level”, Oromo officers at most reach the level of major or lieutenant colonel. They don’t even reach full colonel. If they do, it is a political appointment. They go to Awash Arba for a year or 2 or at most 3-5 years. Then they become generals. There they are (invited to join the circle of corruption) and allowed to engage in corrupt practices. That’s how they corrupt Oromo generals and keep them from achieving top military levels. They don’t want them to get to the top levels. The same for officers from the South. These officers don’t have education or critical thinking skills. All they think about is the money they make and the house they will get when they leave service. When he [Oromo officer] reaches the rank of colonel, he is given a villa house and lifetime pension. That is how they trick them. Such is their structure.

Sadik Ahmed: When you say they will drown them in a muck of corruption, how do they do it exactly? Or do they push a military officer to be involved in corruption? Is it through intelligence work or something else?

Former T-TPLF Mole: Money is tempting. Even if it is 50 or 60 birr, they will pocket it. No big thing. How they spread corruption is, for instance, in my experience, they [T-TPLF] once arranged for 15 soldiers (TPLF cadres ) to desert their unit all at once. They did that as a pretext to get rid of a particular officer. When such desertion occurs, it raises issues of leadership for the officer. If 15 soldiers desert at one time, it must mean the officer has leadership problems. They use that to remove the officer and make other arrangements [to take his position]. But since the officer is afraid to tell his commanding officers that 15 soldiers in his unit deserted, he will underreport and say 3 or 4 deserted. Then he will pocket the budget [for the other 11 or 12 officers] who had deserted. These soldiers are accounted for at the division or regimental level. Second, there is an operational budget. He will pocket some of that too. There are also military clubs that provide entertainment to the troops. These clubs have large revenue. [They will dip into that too.] They [T-TPLF] will suddenly come and do an audit of the clubs and if they find a tiny discrepancy, they will get rid of the officer. This is how they play the officers [in their corruption game].

To be continued…. 

[1] Translation of speech or text often presents some technical problems. Some of them are lexical-semantic; others are grammatical and syntactic. Even more difficult to translate are rhetorical ones involving metaphors and figures of speech. I have aimed for accuracy and meaning in this translation. Any errors and inaccuracies in translation are exclusively mine.